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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Tragic Event Exploited by Nina Planck & The NY Times

I know I promised you sweet vegan goodness in my last post, and I promise, it will be here soon, but in the meantime, there's something that's bugging the crap out of me and I have to get it off my chest. I apologize in advance for this very long and text-heavy post, you know I usually like my posts to be pretty with pictures and all, and I'll get back to that tonight or tomorrow, but this subject does not lend itself to pretty pictures.

On Monday, the New York Times published an op-ed piece entitled Death by Veganism. The article was written by Nina Planck, a cookbook author who is heavily pro-meat/dairy/eggs (and who, coincidentally, also has business interests in the meat and dairy industries). She asserts that the recent tragic death of six-week-old Crown Shakur was due to the fact that his parents are vegan, and goes on to state that no baby raised on a vegan diet can thrive and be healthy. I hesitate to even provide the link to this ridiculously irresponsible and biased article, but I want you to have the whole story so here it is.

I seem to be having a particularly strong and visceral reaction to her article, more so than I probably would have before I became a mom. I am taking it really personally - I know I probably shouldn't - but who is this woman to tell me that my diet, and the way I feed my beloved child, is cruel and irresponsible??? I did plenty of research before Carlos came home to make sure that his diet would meet his nutritional needs. I bought and read Raising Vegan Children in a Non-Vegan World (the ultimate guide for vegan parents, in my opinion), I carefully studied the chapter on nutrition, learned about each nutrient that can potentially be hard to get enough of on a vegan diet, and I came up with this handy one-page guide to hang on the refrigerator as a constant reminder and guide to feeding Carlos (and myself and Matt) a healthy vegan diet. I talked with Carlos' pediatrician, who has absolutely no problem with us feeding him a vegan diet. How dare this woman call me irresposible and ignorant after all that???

Okay, emotional rant over - I want to provide you with some rebuttal information so you can see just how insane this person is. I have a feeling this article of hers is a well-planned publicity stunt to bring the author and her book into the limelight.

First of all, I must say that regardless of your dietary preferences, *anyone* who feeds a baby inadequate quality (or quantity) food is being neglectful/abusive to their child. There are, sadly, all to many cases of abuse and neglect (including malnutrition) among non-vegan households as well. Whether a parent is vegan or otherwise, it is their responsiblity to educate themself about what their baby needs to eat to be healthy. Obviously these parents did not do so, and the outcome was tragic and preventable.

There are so many things wrong with her article that it's hard to know where to begin. I think for now I'm going to exerpt what others have written and provide links to their full articles, because they have said it better than I probably could, and I'm afraid I might be a little too upset to be coherent.

vegan_noodle writes:
[Nina Planck] has taken a tragic, heartbreaking story of abuse and neglect and turned it into a self promoting attack on a way of life that seeks to reduce suffering and promote compassion. {read more}
the urban vegan writes:
In 2003, a Collingswood , NJ couple was charged with starving four of their adopted children over several years. One child died. The issue was clearly neglect. Yet the headlines did not read "Omnivores Starve Child to Death."Let's see all these sad cases for what they are--neglect.And let's see Ms. Planck's op-ed for what it is--an opportunistic misrepresentation. Ms. Planck is a businesswoman who has vested interests in the meat and dairy industries. She is not a nutritionist (which becomes clear when she touts the benefits of lard in her book). {read more}
Amy Joy Lanou, Senior Nutrition Scientist with the Physicians Committe for Responsible Medicine writes:
I am a nutritionist who testified as an expert witness for the prosecution in the criminal trial of the parents of Crown Shakur. As the lead prosecutor in this case told the jury, this poor infant was not killed by a vegan diet. He was starved to death by parents who did not give him breast milk, soy-based infant formula or enough food of any kind.Well-planned vegan diets are healthful for pregnant mothers and their infants, as well as for older children, according to a large body of scientific research ... Studies have found that vegan children are within the normal ranges for weight and height, and I personally know vegan mothers and vegan children who are healthier than many of their omnivorous peers.
Vive le Vegan! writes:
As vegans, we talk endlessly about animal suffering. Well, this is a clear case of human suffering. Baby suffering. I am a vegan, but I am a mother first. I would never risk my child's health. It is a parent's responsibility to protect their child. But this baby's death is not about a vegan diet. It's about inexplicable parental behavior. Being vegan and raising healthy children are not mutually exclusive ... This is what bothers me so much about this article. People read this and think that vegans are so staunch in their beliefs that they would put their child in an unhealthy - risky - situation, because they are 'extreme' vegans. Bull. This is media sensationalizing a story for their own benefit. This baby's death is gut-wrenching, and this article is
D. Hines writes:
My opinion: Nina Planck is as misinformed as those two parents who thought they could feed their newborn baby only soy milk and apple juice. I'd be willing to bet that family did not have any prenatal healthcare (with a knowledgeable provider) since the American Dietetic Association supports a well balanced vegan diet as healthful for infants and pregnant women. I'd also be willing to bet that they didn't have health insurance- which is the real tragedy in this country - not some sensational crap from some food book author with no credentials. The headline should have read "Death by Ignorance Caused By Corporate Greed and Government Indifference."If mom was not able to breastfeed then any soy based formula could have been used satisfactorily. If an ignorant omnivore feeds their baby only cow's milk and apple juice and then the baby dies of anemia or renal failure would the headline read "Death by Omnivorism"?
John McDougall, MD writes:

The scientific truth is: Babies at 6 weeks of age require human breast milk and any other diet means malnutrition. Imagine if the exact opposite approach killed an infant with a formula made of pulverized beef and cow's milk, would this have received similar worldwide press? I believe the case would have been properly considered child neglect (intentional or not) and have gone unnoticed except for those intimately involved. "People love to hear good news about their bad habits" so the tragedy of the death of an infant caused by misguided parents who fed their infant apple juice and soy milk for the first 6 weeks of life has been used to justify eating meat and drinking cow's milk ...

Nina Planck has been allowed by the New York Times to exploit the tragedy of a family and to spread commonly held, but scientifically incorrect, information on human nutrition. The author and the newspaper should be held accountable. Hopefully, the end result will be that people desiring the truth will take the trouble to look at the evidence. If this were to be the case, then this New York Times article could be the beginning of long overdue changes in the ways people eat. Write and tell everyone you know that the New York Times has done a sloppy job, and damage to the public, by allowing harmful lies to be spread-especially when you consider that Planck's message promotes a diet known to cause obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and major cancers. {read more}

And finally, here are some letters published in today's NY Times regarding this article.


Expressyourself said...

Very nice page!

Urban Vegan said...

Nina Planck is a propagandist. Why does she feel so threatened by our peace-loving diet? Because she stands to lose MUCHO money, that's why.

Sara said...

Obviously neglect is neglect and the choice of diet is not the issue. But I wondered, what do you think of this article? Just out of pure curiosity. You don't have to read it all and reply if you don't have time!

Tamara said...

Hey Sara, how's it going? I didn't read the whole article but at a quick glance, here are my thoughts... There are three things that the author of the article you cited says that I agree with -

(1) it's hard to find the truth when both the dairy industry and the soy industry are spending big bucks getting their messages out to the public;

(2) ANY food, if eaten in huge quantities, is not healthy, whether that is beef or broccoli - we need a balanced diet for optimum health; and

(3) there are a lot of less-healthy soy products on the market today (ie, more processed, etc) so it doesn't work to just assume that because something is soy-based, it is automatically healthy.

Beyond that, she sounds kinda off her rocker, to tell you the truth. :-) Sounds like she has an axe to grind against the soy industry for whatever reason...

Here are some links to articles that I feel present a more balanced and accurate view of the 'soy controversy,' if you're interested:


Sara said...

Hi again! I AM interested, thanks for the links. That article was just the first one I ever happened upon that criticized soy, which concerns me as a vegetarian, I'm sure there are times I go overboard. Since I know you are so smart on the subject, I knew you would have some good info! Hey, we still want to hang out sometime, if we can ever figure out when!